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Large Somali-American Community in St. Cloud Concerned About Backlash After Knife Attack

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To discuss community and police response to the knife attack on 10 people in St. Cloud, we go to Minnesota to speak with Haji Yusuf, community director of #unitecloud, a St. Cloud group that promotes cultural understanding. Authorities say the attacker, 22-year-old Dahir Adan, was born in Kenya, is of Somali descent and grew up in the United States. An ISIS website has claimed responsibility, calling the assailant a “soldier of the Islamic State.” Authorities say the attack is being investigated as terrorism. Yusuf says many members of the Somali community have called him to report harassment, and others are keeping their children out of school. “Even for me, I had to go pick up milk for my two-year-old because my wife was a little scared to go out that night.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to Minnesota, where another attack took place this weekend. A man in St. Cloud walks into a local mall and, according to reports, knifed 10 people, and he’s shot dead by a security guard. I wanted to turn right now to Haji Yusuf, who is the community director of the #unitecloud, a St. Cloud group that promotes cultural understanding. On Sunday, you spoke at a news conference on behalf of the Somali-American community. Talk about who the man is, who’s believed to have knifed all these people, identified by his family. He has been killed.

HAJI YUSUF: Dahir Ahmed is an exceptional—Dahir Adan is an exceptional student, graduated high school at his local high school, went to college at St. Cloud State University. A very, very joyful young kid, happy, always smiling, very social, outgoing. And so, on that fateful day, from what I gathered from the family in the early morning after, is that he went out to buy a new iPhone 7. And when he left, he was really, really happy. And they had not any suspicion or anything that told them otherwise. He went out there, and they don’t know what happened after that. So that is the last moment that they saw their son go out to go to the mall to buy an iPhone.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you believe then took place?

HAJI YUSUF: As a community, you know, the whole community of St. Cloud, first of all, you know, we are with the victims, because they are victims. So, we still don’t know what happened. And so, we are with the victims, and we pray for the victims, and we stand with the victims in and around St. Cloud, and also in the state of Minnesota. You know, it’s a shocker. Everyone is shocked in the community, regardless what part of our community you are and who you are or whatever group you come from. Everyone is really shocked and surprised, and people are looking for answers.

And right now, at the moment, you know, what the family is requesting is—what we know right now so far is what the witnesses have said and what the law enforcement have also informed us, that there’s a security tape. And the family also is looking for answers, as well. They also want to see those security tapes and see what happened, really, so they can really understand. At least, you know, they can know what happened to their son.

AMY GOODMAN: Police have confirmed that his name is Dahir Ahmed Adan, and an ISIS website has claimed responsibility, calling the assailant a “soldier of the Islamic State.” Authorities say that the attack is being investigated as a case of terrorism. Again, he was shot dead by an off-duty police officer. So talk about how the Somali community is dealing with this in the greater Minneapolis-St. Paul-St. Cloud area. Is this one of the largest populations of Somalis? I mean, the young man was born in Kenya but is of Somali descent. Is this one of the largest populations of Somalis in the United States?

HAJI YUSUF: Yes. I mean, we have a population of Somalis, Muslims, that live in the state of Minnesota. As you know, I think people have come together on this occasion, because they, the Somalis in the state of Minnesota, do care about the state of Minnesota. They love the state. They live here. This is their home. They don’t know—they don’t have any other home. They know that they have been welcomed, they have been greatly welcomed to the state of Minnesota. The state of Minnesota has opened its arm for a lot of other immigrants and many people of religious belief. There is also the historical part of, you know, a lot of groups coming to this country. And there’s a book, I say—there’s a book that is being written about the story of this country and the history of this country. And then—and the Somali story, Somali-American story, is part of that book that continues to be written about this country and how great this country is and has welcomed a lot of people to come to this country.

With that said, we have come together as a community with our allies, with different groups and different religious, faith-based groups and everyone, rallied behind this one issue. We also want to deal with this issue in a way that we are working with the law enforcement. We are working with other communities around the state of Minnesota and in central Minnesota. And once we get answers and we know what happened, then we want to respond together as a community, not as a group, but as a community, because we have all been affected by this incident.

And it’s not a definition of a community when one person or two people do this. It does not mean that the whole community is for that. It basically means, is—you know, as you know, sometimes there’s evil in every community. And evil walk among us all the time. And there is incidents of evil that has happened in central Minnesota a couple of weeks ago, when we had a man by the name of Dan Heinrich kidnapped Jacob Wetterling, and for 27 years Dan has been terrorizing the state of Minnesota. People are afraid for their kids. So, it’s one incident. And nobody went back and asked for—to explain why—nobody went back and said, “Is Danny a Christian? Is he—what faith group is he in? What group does he come? What part of central Minnesota he lived in?” So—and there was not a lot of international media. But this one incident has just put St. Cloud on the spot, has put the state of Minnesota on the spot, has put the Somali-American community on the spot. And we have to come out. And working with our state, working with our law enforcement, working with everyone involved, we need to find answers what really happened that day.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, that’s a really significant point. When Timothy McVeigh, for example, blew up the Oklahoma City building, white Christian men were not rounded up around the country, or a whole questioning of what does this mean about white men who are Christian. It was dealt with as a crime.


AMY GOODMAN: Now, Jaylani Hussein, the executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, CAIR, told The Wall Street Journal that he and other Muslims had received threats in the wake of the stabbing. He also said that a car flying a Confederate flag had been driving around Somali neighborhoods on Sunday night harassing residents. Do you know anything about this?

HAJI YUSUF: Oh, yeah, I tweeted that out, once I got—I get a lot of calls from the community and from everyone. As part of #unitecloud, you know, we work with everyone in our community. And we not only speak of—we don’t only speak for any one group; we speak for everyone. We speak on issues of homelessness. We speak on issues of feeding our neighborhood and taking care of our neighbors. And it’s two people that have started this organization. I’m a Muslim, a Somali American. Natalie Ringsmuth is a Christian, a conservative Christian, that was born and raised in St. Cloud. So, we have come together in saying that, too. So, when we get—we get a lot of information from the community in the tweet or our inbox, or we get a call. And we got a call that there were about eight vehicles driving around St. Cloud, downtown St. Cloud, and in, around Somali neighborhoods, Somali-American neighborhoods and other neighborhoods where Muslims live. And they were just honking, threatening, verbally abusing.

I’ve heard of incidents on Highway I-94 where a Somali-American girl and her family wearing hijab got harassed by two or three bikers. And so, we get these calls right now. Even as far as the next day, on Monday, there was a lot of Somali-American families that did not take their kids to school, did not want to go outside the house, because they were really afraid. They were really—kids were really scared. Everyone was really scared. So, it was a scary moment. Even for me, I had to go pick milk for my two-year-old, because my wife was a little bit scared to go outside that night. So, you have that going on.

And so—and the best way to do it is for us to rally behind other faith groups in central and St. Cloud and leadership, so that we can respond together, working with the police chief, working with the mayor, working with the leadership in St. Cloud, and also, generally, the law enforcement, because we really want to know, because that’s the only way we can really work this out. And we want to support all leadership involved to get to the bottom of this, to know the truth and really what happened. And that’s the only way we can go about this.

First of all, also, as a community, if indeed it’s proven, if indeed there are facts supporting that young Dahir Adan—first of all, this is his own individual action, so he does not represent myself or anybody that I know in the state of Minnesota who’s Somali-American. That’s one. Two, if indeed it’s proven that Mr. Dahir Ahmed Adan was behind this and that he had a connection to a nonterrorist organization from outside, then we have a problem in our community, and we need to admit that. And we need to find out ways and how to deal with that problem. We cannot keep on living—we cannot keep on living in denial that there’s problems, because we know, in any community, there are issues, and people need to deal with it and find, before it’s too late and we have more issues or something like this happening in a larger scale. So, we have to work with our neighbors. We have to work with our community. We have to work with our state. We have to work with law enforcement. We have to find solution together and respond together. I think that is important. Most of the time you have people who want to respond things in many different ways. It confuses people. People really don’t understand what is the motive of some other people, you know?

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted—

HAJI YUSUF: But at the end of the day is—go ahead.

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